The new corruption scandal in Kohtla-Järve, which came to the public's attention last week, reveals several loopholes in the law that businessman Nikolai Ossipenko has skillfully exploited, ERR's Viru County correspondent writes Rene Kundla.
64-year-old Nikolai Ossipenko's allegedly incurable illness is one of the key elements of the story. The judge sent him home from jail for the duration of the investigation on the grounds that the risk to his life was less there. At the same time, however, the court found that Mr Ossipenko's apparently corrupt lifestyle would most likely continue while he was at liberty.
Let's not forget, that in 2014, Osssipenko was already released on health grounds when suspected of corruption, while the then leaders of Kohtla-Järve were punished.
The illness has not prevented Ossipenko from being active in local politics or from speaking out regularly in his newspaper "Panorama." And time and again, the businessman has taken part in local elections, collecting the votes of his company's employees, which have secured him a seat on the Jõhvi council.
Logically speaking, if a person feels well enough to stand for election, the moment he or she puts his or her name forward, the hearing of case which has been suspended on health grounds should also go ahead.
Ossipenko is able to get elected, however, if the newspaper Põhjarannik's calculations are correct, it will soon be ten years since he last took his seat on the Jõhvi Municipal Council. It should be logical that if a councilor fails to attend (a session during) a full election cycle, he or she should have to skip the next election. Such behavior is, after all, fooling the electorate.
The Ossipenko case also draws attention to the need for stricter residency checks for candidates in local elections. Everyone familiar with the issue knows that Mr Ossipenko lives in the Suvi resort on the shores of Lake Peipsi, which is in the Alutaguse rural municipality, yet that has not stopped him from standing as a candidate in the Jõhvi municipality. Although, yes, as a resident of Alutaguse municipality (myself), I must honestly admit that it is better if this man continues to collect votes in Jõhvi (instead).
The corruption scandal in Kohtla-Järve lends support to the idea that Estonia should introduce a 'for' and 'against' (option on the ballot) in elections. (If that happened), local politicians who are business leaders in the public sphere would be faced with the choice of either not cleaning up the rubbish and removing snow from the roads, or risking bad electoral results. The same leverage would also provide incentives for those in power to care more about the well-being of local residents than the well-being of the public utility.
On the business side, it seems unfair that the law allows a company with 32 employees, which paid nothing in tax during the last quarter, to win a €15 million contract. And with whom, the municipality has to wait to sign a contract, until the winning company can agree with the state on when to reschedule a tax debt of more than €0.5 million.
This is what happened in Kohtla-Järve recently. Vitaly Borodin, the deputy mayor, who was accused of corruption last week, justified the situation by saying that there were no other bidders (for the contract). But looking at it from the sidelines, it seems that no one came forward to bid because it was understood that the contract had been rigged in favor of a particular company.
I am sure that most of Mr Ossipenko's employees and constituents are good, honest people. However, they would be better off if they could contribute to a business run by a businessman with a cleaner reputation.
And finally, Nikolai Ossipenko is not just a municipal businessman. His machines have been clearing state- (owned) roads since last year, for instance. Perhaps the corruption scandals linked to the company will cast a shadow over both the state and the other municipalities where Mr Ossipenko's businesses, which change names when needed, win contracts.
Editor: Michael cole